With a plethora of new tablets coming out with the Android operating system, and Apple still dominant in the market, the BlackBerry PlayBook has a mountain to climb. Over extended tests, the tablet has shown many strengths, and a few weaknesses.
Small form factor, enterprise security, good quality screen
Small form factor, poor application support
1GHz dual-core processor, 1GB RAM, 5-megapixel rear camera, 3-megapixel front camera, 130mmx194mmx10mm, 425g
RIM is not the only company to go with the 'small is beautiful' philosophy when it comes to tablet design, but the 130mmx194mmx10mm BlackBerry PlayBook certainly shows the benefits of a 7in form factor.
The unit is much more portable than a 10in tablet, and can be slipped into a pocket rather than being carried in full view.
That portability comes at a price, however. The smaller screen can feel cramped for those used to larger tablets, but the 1,024x600 WSVGA LCD display is crisp, bright and clear.
In bright sunlight the screen is on a par with anything else on the market, and considerably better than devices like the 10.1 Samsung Galaxy Tab.
RIM makes the most of the real estate by extending touch controls outside the viewing area, so that a swipe of the finger allows you to switch between applications or activate menus.
There are, however, auxiliary finger controls that RIM should make more of. When the device is in sleep mode a swipe from side to side across the screen wakes it up. Drawing the finger from the bottom left of the screen brings up the keyboard, and a draw down from the top right brings up the system menu.
Built into the screen facia are good quality twin speakers on either side, with a microphone in the top left corner and 3.5mm audio jack on the right, and a forward-facing 3-megapxel camera, with a 5-megapixel version on the back with a flash unit.
The quality and precision of the screen is a major point in the PlayBook's favour. Even with such a reduced screen size, the Playbook is an easy device to view from almost any angle. This performance is helped by 1GB of RAM and a dual-core 1GHz processor.
Heavy-duty build quality
The PlayBook is solidly built, but at 425g is heavier than it looks, and one-handed use can become tiring after a time. The unit we reviewed unit is the 16GB version, with a 32GB model also available, and the device has no removable storage ports.
All the buttons are at the top: an integrated three-button volume and play set and the power stud. On this model the latter is, rather frustratingly, slightly recessed, meaning you have to hunt around and get leverage to power up and down. RIM has already fixed the problem with later designs.
In its base the PlayBook has a microUSB slot for charging, docking port connector for when one becomes available, and an HDMI port. The latter is useful for showing presentations or movies on compatible display systems, and is available only via an accessory with the iPad.
The PlayBook comes with 802.11 a/b/g/n and Bluetooth as standard, and RIM is promising later models supporting 4G standards, including WiMax, LTE and HSPA+. GPS is standard across the range, and was very accurate in testing.
We got five to eight hours between charges, with video playing and any Flash-intensive applications hitting the power system hard. That's certainly enough for a day's normal use, and the device recharges from empty in a little over two hours.